Page last updated at 15:02 GMT, Saturday, 16 January 2010

Haiti online donations blocked over fraud concerns

By Paul Lewis
Presenter, Radio 4's Money Box

Child victim of Haiti earthquake
Aid is urgently needed for victims of the Haiti quake

Some online donations to charities helping victims of the Haiti earthquake are being wrongly blocked by banks as fraudulent, financial experts say.

Some card thieves use charity donations to check if a stolen card will work before using it to illegally buy goods.

But banks' automated systems can block unusual first-time payments to charities, leaving donors frustrated.

Banks say the majority of donations are authorised and customers can contact them to clear any blocked payments.

'Fraud test'

Estella Baker, an HSBC customer, told BBC Radio 4's Money Box programme her donation was blocked.

It is really pressing with the Haiti appeal that the charities get the money as fast as possible with no difficulties
Estella Baker, Money Box listener

"They told me they had done this because I hadn't used that website before.

"But recently I have used a lot of websites and made credit card payments some for larger sums than that and none has been blocked."

Andrew Goodwill, from fraud screening firm 3rd Man, said criminals use charity donations to test whether a card has been stopped.

"When a credit card fraudster compromises your card he will want to test that card to see if it works.

"So he will make a small donation through a charity website because there are no goods to be delivered and if it does works he can then go on and use it on other sites."

"Banks are blocking donations to charities and it is absolutely ridiculous because at this time that is what people want to do to show their support.

"Ring your card company and tell them that you are really annoyed and make sure they take the block off so you can use the card."

Suspicious pattern

The scale of the problem is not clear but the Red Cross has confirmed that it does occur with a small proportion of online donations.

the vast majority of our customers' donations to charities are made successfully

Other listeners have also contacted Money Box to say their online donations to a number of charities with various cards have been blocked.

Ms Baker thinks the banks need to sort out their systems.

"It is really pressing with the Haiti appeal that the charities get the money as fast as possible with no difficulties," she said.

HSBC told Money Box: "The vast majority of our customers' donations to charities are made successfully, and it is only cards following a suspicious pattern of transactions that may be declined."

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